The miniscule room Spell Toronto rents in the industrial Stringmasters music complex in Poway is crowded with the equipment of three different bands; there's barely room to sit. The cubbyhole has become the focal point of the band's after-hours existence, much as the complex has become the focal point of the North County music scene. Two of the groups' favorite fellow locals-The Classified and Transit War-practice next door; Unwritten Law rents a room across the hall.
Introductions have barely been made when guitarist Jayce Molina makes his first hefty announcement.
"For the record," he says (a statement he'll repeat many times through the night), "Danny [King, drummer] just sprayed deodorant down his pants, on his billiards... he's afraid they stink."
He stops to look at the reporter with a defiant, questioning stare in his dark brown Latino eyes that sit behind a pair of smart-looking, black-framed eyeglasses.
"I want that in the article," he says, resolutely.
And so the interview begins.
Throughout the evening, amidst a short set of the band's newest material, beers and hours of band history and conversation, Molina prefaces every embarrassing and contentious detail with the phrase, "I want this put in the article."
A lot of musicians cringe over spilled information and awkward details; Molina's pretty goddamn open.
A self-described homeless "bum," the self-taught guitarist hides nothing. He talks of his history with two prominent local Christian bands, both of which expelled him for moral and artistic differences; his trials with alcohol; his wanderings through the heroin-riddled hostels of Seattle; his four-year marriage, the failure for which he accepts his fair share of responsibility; and two things he's totally committed to-his daughter and the future of Spell Toronto.
"For the record, Jason fucked my ex-girlfriend. I want that in the article," he says, referring to guitarist and lead singer, Jason De La Torre.
Like a group of playfully quarrelling brothers, the band shares an incestuous history that always seems to come back around to the current lineup. De La Torre explains that he accidentally came to know Molina's ex-girl, in the biblical sense, while Molina continues to put the pressure on Jason's ex-girl to go out to dinner-purely to be a good friend, he swears-and everybody in the band seems to have a fiendish appreciation for the special hugs of King's current sweetheart.
The old man of the group, checking in at a venerable 28 years, Ismael "Chachi" Velazquez Jr. seems to be the glue that holds the thing together. He fronted the lion's share of the $13,000 it cost to produce their first album, The Brown Frequency, which they put out on their own Green Box Records. After months of mastering by local engineer Thomas Della Vecchia, the album was released in March, and the group couldn't be happier with the outcome.
Nineteen-year-old King, on the other end of the spectrum, is the band's youngest member and their remaining tie to the punk rock culture they grew up with.
In citing influences, Molina and De La Torre refer to a litany of San Diego bands from the past decade-and-a-half: 3-Mile Pilot, Inch, Tanner and Rocket From The Crypt among them. Molina's list strays from Helmet to the old-school hip-hop sounds of Boogie Down Productions and A Tribe Called Quest. He draws the line where De La Torre goes into old-school gangster rap and total non-sequiturs like Neil Diamond.
Velazquez came from a funk background, steeped in the traditions of Parliament and George Clinton.
"That's why we don't play covers," King suggests. "We've got such different backgrounds."
Molina and De La Torre talk of their younger punk influences and the long-ago high school days when they began playing together while maintaining different bands.
Molina, talked up by De La Torre as a musical genius who tuned out of school music classes early, tuned into the radio and taught himself the virtues of Drop-D Tuning. De La Torre says that method has become prominent in the band's style.
Without a roof or a car, Molina's taken to spending hours each day at Stringmasters and playing out with a variety of different players in an assortment of different genres. He's also taken to whoring himself out for food and wheels.
"I don't need a car as long as I have a penis," he says.
If Molina is the band's professional indigent, King is a devoted understudy. He recently gave up his vehicle and his job to go on tour with the L.A. band Saiosin, only to be dropped the night before the band started their tour. Since, he's had the time to fully devote to Spell Toronto.
"It really bummed him out for a while [being dropped at the last minute by Saiosion]," De La Torre says. "Those guys are an A-list band-like towels and a dressing room-and we're still C-list... maybe D-list."
De La Torre's not without his own idiosyncrasies, albeit in a different vein-he's the group's hypochondriac. Despite being the picture of outward health, in the course of three hours he details a long history with asthma ("wait till you see the sucking-on-an-asthma-breather-between-puffs-on-the-cigarette routine," Velazquez says), voice chord nodules detected by his ear-nose-and-throat specialist, hyper-gastric disorder and a small list of other maladies, each of which is broached with a your-not-gonna-believe-this-shit smile.
Velazquez, the shining ray of sanity in the group, has a mechanical engineering degree from San Diego State University and a solid job that the Defense Department won't let him talk about.
"I'll drop all that in a second if the band takes off," he says.
For all their legitimate and exaggerated insanity, the band is serious about the music. The Brown Frequency is a collection of hard, guitar-backed rock 'n' roll with De La Torre's beguiling voice-vocals that at times approach what he calls the "cusp of that new wave of screaming rock."
Honey manufacturers should thank him for that voice-between songs, De La Torre pours the coating liquid down his throat, lathering those nodule-laden chords.
Despite bemoaning the clutter of their new material, the band's sound is crisp and sharp. They play with an intensity and seriousness that belies their self-styled image as fucked-up rockers.
The band betrays a strong desire to take the next step and make a living out of what is, for all of them, their third or fourth band. Asked about big record labels, De La Torre shakes his head.
"We're really not interested in that," he says. "We produced The Brown Frequency on our own label and we're happy with what we got. We're really concentrating right now on touring, getting some dates lined up and getting our name out there."
They'll continue to play the local venues they know-Scolari's Office, SOMA, The Casbah-while continuing to pump out new material.
Getting their name out there might be more difficult. "Spell Toronto" is no doubt the group's most pedestrian attribute.
But don't judge a band by its nom de amplifier.
The name came about years ago when they heard the phrase in two completely removed contexts. In the first, a friend of the then-forming band had a dream he was getting intimate with an attractive woman who whispered in his ear, "Spell Toronto."
That on its own would have been enough.
About that time, however, a girlfriend of the band let them in on the little-known fact that if you spell Toronto with your tongue while engaged in cunnilingus... she'll be a fan of the band for life.
The name stuck.